Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why the scare tactics? Austin PD hyping stranger danger

Living in Austin, I find it unfortunate when our local police department uses scare tactics and hype instead of being honest with the public. This practice did not begin with new Chief Art Acevedo, but it's continuing under his watch to judge by a new video they're promoting on APD's website titled, simply, "Stranger Danger." It's about exactly what you might expect - hyping parental fears that a stranger might snatch their child and giving parents and kids all sorts of paranoid advice, some of which I think is flat out wrong. There's an intangible but important harm done by teaching kids to fear other people irrationally and IMO this video crosses that line.

In reality, how frequent are "stranger danger" type abductions? According to a 2002 national study by USDOJ, "an estimated 115 children and youth were the victims of a stereotypical kidnapping in the study year" out of a total of "58,200 nonfamily abduction victims." That's why "the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has never supported the “stranger-danger” message, especially because experience has shown us that most children are actually taken by someone they know or are familiar with."

So where's the video telling kids to beware molestation or abduction by their parents or close family friends?

At 115 "stereotypical" abductions per year (the number ranges, said DOJ, between 60 and 170), that's a rate of roughly .14 per 100,000 kids. Compared to other childhood risks, that's truly de minimus. By contrast, youth are 15 times as likely to commit suicide (2.1 per 100,000). This blogger takes the statistical analysis even further:
The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 310,000. The odds of being abducted by a stranger? 1 in 610,000! Wow, that means that a child is more likely to die in a plane crash than get kidnapped by a stranger. That isn't the coolest thing though. ... The odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 240,000! That's right, do the math ... A child is 2 and a half times more likely to get hit by lightening than to get taken by a stranger!
To listen to the video put out by APD, you'd think kids were getting snatched off the streets by strangers in Austin at all hours of the day and night. That's a misrepresentation and it provides no obvious benefit to public safety (though perhaps for public safety budgets) for police to scare the public by promoting it.


Anonymous said...

That video was rubbish! Does it mean that all elderly disabled persons are potential child abductors? Anyway in the UK in the 1970's there was a public information film about this subject. At least it gave everyone a new chat up line. (I understand that Americans would call it a "hit on" line)

Don Dickson said...

Hmm...that was kinda creepy, wasn't it?

Anyone who has in modern times smiled and said hi to an eight-year old as you pass on the sidewalk has seen the visceral panic-reaction that we've indoctrinated into the newest generation of children. I do not consider it hyperbole to say that it tears at the fabric of our society to teach such suspicion of each other. Growing up in New York City forty years ago was in many respects a more sociable experience than living in Texas today.

Anonymous said...

Election ad?

Remy, Esq. said...

Is it reelection time?!?!

Watching the video makes me feel bad about saying hello to kids when they are walking with their parents at Sam's Club.

What a sad state of affairs when you can't even say hello or look at a child and share in their unbaised happiness without having to worry about being labeled a "suspicious" person.


SB said...

I expect this is anticipation of the federal Adam Walsh that is about to explode all over the nation. The laws, plus the ones that already existed, are based on stranger-danger. John Walsh is still pushing stranger-danger and he is a hard acct to follow. Children are being sacrificed in favor of politics but this is nothing new.
Taking this national is nuts. We are talking about issues that happen within the home or neighborhoods where there are so many teens that think the law does not apply to them. But prevention would be in direct conflict with the Adam Walsh Act.

Anonymous said...

it's sad to see so many kids scared of every man they see on the street. sure, the stuff in the vid was common sense, but they really need to be watching out for that uncle (aunt?) with the wandering hands, the teacher, coach, priest, sunday school teacher, neighbor, etc. etc. that the child already knows. (and police officers too.) it's the non-strangers that are more dangers. instead, teach the children what is inappropriate, and that they can say "no, stop that!"

Anonymous said...

The really sad thing is that law enforcement either knows the truth and ignores it or we have people in those positions who do not know or research the facts. These kinds of scare tactices are not done to protect children. They are for political and financial gain only. We, the taxpayers, are footing a huge bill for laws and actions that do nothing to make our children more safe. But until there is public outrage and we let our legislators know that we are opposed to feel good laws and actions that serve no real purpose, we will continue to see these kinds of scare tactics. After all we are the same people who have allowed lawmakers to lead us to believe that the sex offender registry is protecting children. But there again, our children are not in great danger of being offended by those on the registry. It is those not on the registry who pose the greatest risk. Our children are not in great danger from a sex offender who lives near a school. The greatest danger is from the teacher inside their school or the family member inside their home. Yes, law enforcement and legislators have completely missed the mark on this issue. That is why there has been no reduction in sexual offenses against children. The taxpayers and our children are paying the price.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed thoughts about this video. I think we live in a culture of fear, and I don't want my children to live in that fear. But at the same time, I don't want my gorgeous girls walking around by themselves. They are too pretty I think... I am not worried about the Hollywood "stranger danger" but I don't want them to be alone someplace where something could happen. They stay with me. Kind of like watching the discovery channel... the young are always in the close company of their parents. There are always predators out in the wild, some are unknown and some are "in the family". So in reality, I think both need to be understood and mitigated against.

Of course as they get older they are more capable and can stray further from the nest. But why do the police only focus on the one end of the danger spectrum? Actually... I don't think it is the job of the police or government to "keep us safe". Their role is to safeguard our civil liberties. Ok... ummm. o boy. Ok, so we have no civil liberties left. So what is their role then? I think it is pretty obvious.

Some of this info in the video is just common sense. Do I want my child getting into a vehicle unknown with unknown occupants? No way. I don't even want them driving in a car with people I know, until I have a chance to observer how they drive. People drive crazy and road rage, even people you know and love. I generally refuse to drive with people myself until I can see how they drive. So some of this stuff is just common sense... and I think this video was on one level working on that effort of dumbing us down and looking to the "experts" to instruct us how to live every little detail of our lives.

They did not mention sex offenses at all in this video, which after reading some of the other comments I was expecting to see. One detective actually said "while stranger abduction is extremely rare, it could happen". Interesting... you could interpret this as a public safety announcement or some kind of propaganda. It would be nice if they would cover a broader spectrum, but I am not sure I even want them to. How many times did they say "dial 911" drilling that into our heads. The police will protect you. In reality... I have found you have more to worry about from the police. Which is sad. We need to learn self reliance in this country again, and take care of ourselves. And seriously... would you ask a 5 year old for directions? I think an adult would be more competent and knowledgeable. Would you ask a little kid to help find your dog? Sounds pretty odd to me.

We live in a culture of fear. A little courage, knowledge about how the world works and common sense is what we need. I think I will be educating my children on some of these exact same points, but will go much further making sure they have true and accurate and comprehensive knowledge and that they understand the TRUTH, the WHOLE TRUTH, and NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.

And I have to say... this video to me was not hyping scare tactics. Watch Fox News to see the difference. Was this video propaganda? Maybe. But I've seen much worse. And they never mentioned sex crimes. They never mentioned it. If this was a direct propaganda piece to drum up sex-offender fears, they could have done a much much better job. And they employ master propagandists with psychological training, so they know what they are doing. I would not worry so much about this particular video... but stay focused on truthful issues and real information and take that truth to the people. And try and get them to stop watching TV. Any given "news report" about sex-offenders contains a thousand times more technical events, psychological manipulations and mind control techniques than this police video did, which may not be as nefarious as everyone thinks. Maybe it is... but I really don't care that much. I see bigger problems at work. Bigger than the police.... we have to take this fight to the source if we expect to win. I still think most police got into police work because they have a genuine desire to help someone. You may get mad at a cop for writing you a ticket, but I think generally that same cop would drag you out of that same burning car at the scene of a wreck to save your life.

Is there a rampage of police violence sweeping the nation? Yes. But that also comes from a higher level. We have to understand how this stuff really works if we expect to neutralize it.

marysue said...

Thank you Mr. Henson for addressing this issue. Talk about "scare tactics"! I would like to create my own video and depict the lives of hundreds of young men in Texas who are now incarcerated for having sexual activities with their teen-aged girlfriends. Such young men, and their families, have been prosecuted,incarcerated, emotionally and financially devastated, and placed on the dreaded lifetime registry. All in the name of "protecting the children". Tax payers are footing the bill for many individuals who are of no danger to anyone! Help fight for common sense laws. Visit our site:

Anonymous said...

I'm a mother. I was recently at a museum with my ten-year-old son. We saw a little girl of about five or six years wandering back and forth alone, crying. No one did anything more than glance at her, then walk to another exhibit. I looked around for a parent, but didn't see anyone who looked remotely interested in the crying child. So my son and I walked up to her and I asked if she needed help finding her Mommy. She nodded, still crying. The moment I took her hand to lead her to the Front Desk, a woman pushing a stroller bolts over and grabs the girl's arm. "That's MY child!" she said, and all but dragged the girl away.

No "Thank you for finding my daughter." No "There's my child!" Oh, no. I, a woman with my own child in tow, had dared to express interest in a lost and crying little girl. Therefore, the mother assumed I was about to abduct her.

That's sick.

Anonymous said...

What is sad is the harm done to children.

Let kids outdoors

Crime is down, but parents shelter their children as if there's a child predator on every corner.

Remember 'go outside and play?'
Overbearing parents have taken the fun out of childhood and turned it into a grind.

Can you forgive her?

In March, Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother, gave her 9-year-old son, Izzy, a MetroCard, a subway map, a $20 bill and some quarters for pay phones. Then she let him make his own way home from Bloomingdale's department store -- by subway and bus.

Anonymous said...

BJ, the reason that there is continued sexual attacks on kids is that the courts, especially in Bexar County, WILL NOT revoke probation when violation upon violation occurs! Ask Judges Roman, Herr, Vasquwz-Gardner, Harle, Richardson and MacRae why they won't send these deviant predators to prison where they belong. And ask the Bexar County Sheriff why he only has one deputy doing registration verification? And Police Chief McManus why he only has two officers doing registration verification and five detectives for a city of 1.5 million. Does anyone really care??????

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about this topic. My mother was raised on a farm and had me at 18. She was somewhat naive about the ways of the world. We moved to a large city when I was in grade school. I had tons more freedom but it came with the price of being molested several times. Apparently My experience was anomalous. Out of the 18 men and women that molested me, 12 were complete strangers, 3 were casual acquaintances of someone I knew and trusted and only 3 were someone you would normally trust with your child.

It has been my experience that you dont need to teach your children to fear every adult but teach them to be wary of certain situations. You should teach your child that no adult should seek to be alone with them. You should tell them it is their right to refuse if a teacher, a CPS worker, a doctor, a police officer ... trys to meet with them alone. They should be taught to avoid any situation that isolates them. In short, you have to teach your children to not be as trusting.
For instance: When my daughter was 10 she earned extra cash by raking some of the neighbor's yards. One man offered her $20 to rake his back yard as well as the front. She politely told the man that she would need her mother's permission to go into his back yard. Even though I had never explicitly forbidden that particular situation. I did teach my daughter how to recognize a potentially dangerous situation and avoid it.

Anonymous said...

It is my responsibility as a parent to my children to teach them the difference in "right touch, wrong touch" and "right behavior and wrong behavior" - telling them that anyone could be a danger but if anyone ever says or does anything "scary" (mostly in the family as we know, it's not the stranger danger that we should worry about) - that they need to tell SOMEONE, anyone, even if it was another family member. It is NOT the governments job to raise my children and I think all of this is a ploy by the government to get everyone on some sort of registry. Shoot, I know a bunch of sex offenders and not ONE of them is a violent person nor commited a violent crime! They made a mistake as a young man (everyone one of them under age 25) and paid the price yet we, as Texans, continue to persecute and ruin these people's lives that just want to live again. I do not say that rapists and child molestors should be let out without some sort of therapy involved but these guys I know were sickened by the therapy our state offered, some actually threw up when leaving these "meetings" they were so heinous. (the talk).

We have to stop this mess, stop the registry, get it back to the original Wetterling Act (violent offenders of all kinds, not JUST sex offenders and certainly not what it is today) and in the hands of the police, NOT the public, which is like a Scarlet Letter for all of these guys and gals that are trying to move on.

Our state ruins lives faster than any other state I think and it seems the Austin area is the worst around to put KIDS on the registry. This has to stop! We have bigger fish to fry than consensual sex, online chatting and setting people up online creating "criminals"!!! We are paying to create criminals here, what a joke!

OmegaWolf747 said...

I agree that teen guys who did it with their girlfriends a year or two younger shouldn't be labeled sex offenders. Only if it's some guy in his 20s doing it with a 12-year-old should that happen.

I love what John Walsh does for those who have been kidnapped, raped, murdered, etc. However, I wish he would do more to emphasize that most often, children are molested/kidnapped, etc. by people they know.